Sunday, January 4, 2015
By Vollick Meiele
I believe in God. Yeah, the Biblical God, though I must say I prefer His New Testament incarnation to His Old Testament grumpiness. Maybe sheathing Himself in the flesh made Him realize just how hard it is to be human. Of course, that line of thinking is problematic because it might mean that God wasn’t omniscient, or that He could risk, or even learn things. Anyway, it’s germane to what I want to tell you, so here goes: I think God forgot about my grandfather.
Let that sink in for a second. I really think God forgot about my grandfather. Now, you might ask, if I believe in the Biblical God, with his lists of omnis—presence, potence, cience, how can I even consider that God forgot about grandpa....well, I can’t really just say it in a few words...it needs some explaining.
My grandpa was born on September 28, 1912 in Buncombe County, North Carolina. To rob and alter a line from H.I. McDonnough, my great-grandmother’s womb was a lush and fertile field whereupon my great-grandfather’s seed all-too-frequently found ample purchase. In spite of his otherwise feeble body, his virility enabled him to sire a slew of sons with my great-grandmother—sons (7) that he could not maintain physically or emotionally after she died giving birth to yet another son, less than a year after my grandfather’s birth. So, John Agleston Buckner (1870-1928), did what any ailing widower did in that day and age, he put all of his sons that couldn’t work in the poor house...in this case, the Baptist Children’s Home in Weaverville, North Carolina.
I think it was sometime around this time, say late 1913, that God forgot about my grandpa; I can’t be sure exactly when it was, but that’s my best guess.
In the orphanage, my grandpa still had family with him—all of his brothers were there: John, Henry, Claude, and the rest are unimportant to my readers, because God did not forget about them; they are all dead. When he turned sixteen in 1928, my great-grandfather came and got him out of the orphanage (no one ever adopted him), and they had a two hour conversation; John Buckner never visited his children in the home. In spite of his ailments, he did marry his dead wife’s sister (from photographs I’ve seen, she was so dog-ugly that it’s no wonder all she could get was an invalid for a lover) because he knocked her up out-of-wedlock, though I guess he was still too ill to get his boys out of the poor house (please note the bitterness of my tone). Evidently, Mother Nature compensated my great-grandfather for his weak body by giving him some of the most agile ovum-seeking sperm in the history of Western North Carolina. That very same night he went and got little Raymond Vines Buckner from the poor house, when their two hour chat was over, my great-grandfather went to bed and promptly died of an aneurysm in his sleep. My grandpa only ever spoke to his biological father once, for two hours. He never knew his mother. Even though his step-mother was also his aunt, she would not let him live with her. Not wanting to return to the orphanage, he went to live with his aged grandfather. About two months later, 2nd Lieutenant Nineveh Taylor Buckner (1840-1928), 25th North Carolina Regiment, Infantry, CSA, died of a heart attack. Raymond’s elderly step-grandmother had only a widow’s Civil War pension to live on and she was moving back to Ohio to be near here family, so, young Raymond decided to leave.
He left the only world he had ever known, the hills of Western North Carolina, hitchhiking all the way across the country to Monterrey Bay, California. Upon arrival, he lied about his age to an army recruiter, and enlisted in the regular Army in September of 1929, a couple of weeks before the Black Friday stock market crash. He fought his way across Asia in the Philippines, China, and Burma. In spite of having served, in combat, under arms, during the duration of World War Two (he was in China when Japan attacked us), he was never wounded. He never had a scratch, in fact, you can’t find a scar on his body--save one I'll explain later. In 1952, while stationed in Germany, with my grandmother holding my mom and worrying about whether he was going to be sent to fight in Korea, the blood flow to grandpa’s heart was occluded and he suffered his first myocardial infarction. While this saved him from the horrors of Korea, it did consign an old soldier to the horrors of motorpool maintenance at Fort McPherson, Georgia. When he had another heart attack in 1954, the Army told Master Sgt. Raymond V. Buckner, USA-retired, that his services were no longer needed. Suddenly without a job, with a family to feed, and aged 42, he enrolled in a course to become a medical technician. He found employment with the Department of Agriculture, and spent the next 20 years criss-crossing the Southeastern United States taking soil samples from farms and telling people what kinds of fertilizer to apply to get better crop yields from their fields, slowed only by his third attack in 1967. In 1974, at age 62, a year after my birth, my grandfather retired from his government job and gained employment as the parking lot security guard at the Hadley’s department store in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. He worked at this sinecure until 1981, when at age 69, he finally retired, drawing the maximum Social Security amount one can earn, along with a full military pension, and a twenty-year federal government pension.
As his body aged and his health declined, it appeared to anyone who saw him that most men of his size, brawn, and stature do not live long lives—especially not men whose chests had exploded in searing pain three times before. When the Saudi irhabists crashed their planes into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the veteran in my grandfather became enraged. He had fought an enemy once before who had attacked his country, and he had defeated them with his own sweat and tears, notice I didn't say blood. As he sat stewing that night, watching the news, his old ticker decided to breathe fire into his chest yet again, fulminating into an agony that few men survive once, let alone four times. It should come as no surprise to you, my readers, that his fifth, and most recent heart attack barely caused him any turmoil when it tried to rip him from this world in early February 2003, near the second anniversary of his wife’s death.
So, to say the same thing over again, at some point in his toddler years, God forgot about little Raymond Vines Buckner. Now, before you accuse me of blasphemy, let me state how exactly God did His forgetting. If God is truly omni-potent, then He has, conceivably, the power to do whatever He wishes, inside of the laws of Physics, and the laws that He set down when He created the world. So, I think God chose to forget about my grandpa. God saw that little Vines was getting a raw deal, and chose to grant him the gift of long life by forgetting about him. By all rights, my grandfather should be dead and buried. Five heart attacks, diabetes (after age 90), vascular disease, dropsy, repeated thrombosis, a botched elective circumcision (his only scar) at 85, and any other number of afflictions that Mother Nature and Father Time could throw at my grandfather have all been thwarted by the simple act that God willfully and purposefully chose to forget about him. Where other men should have and would have died, the act of God leaving off thinking of my grandfather has allowed him to remain, to persist in this world, far longer than anyone else would have. The Angel of Death hasn't been sent by God to reclaim Raymond, because he doesn't appear in the Book of Life.
He now lives in an assisted living facility near my mom’s house. He sits at a table for four people for every meal. The other three people are always the same ones—they have to have assigned seats because of all the dietary restrictions the elderly have (individually)—and in his six years living there, sitting at his table is akin to a death sentence. Scores of people have dined with him and died. I used to joke that even the staff wouldn’t dare sit down to a meal with him out of mortal fear. Now, I don’t joke, because no one will sit with him. Even though the geriatric myths can’t take much root because of the constant deaths of those who know the stories, the newcomers hear the staff’s whispers. They don’t want to sit next to the man that God forgot. The mortal don’t like the immortal—no one likes to be reminded of the temporality of their own existence, that all glory is fleeting, that the world, and Raymond, will go on without them.
And yet, I think now this gift of temporary immortality has morphed from a wondrous condition to a clear burden. I no longer see the light of life in my grandfather’s eyes; I can’t actually see his eyes anymore because his back is so crooked that he can’t raise his head up from the cane crook position it now rests in. I see a very very old man who wants God to remember him, to hear his prayers, to allow him to pass into the next life and be reunited with the mother that he never knew, and with the wife that he loved dearly in spite of her onerous personality and poison tongue.
The dream of immortality has no appeal to me, at least not in the flesh, because I’ve seen its consequence acted out over the body of my grandfather, and I do not like the result. Immortality is a burden, a boring odious burden. God, if You haven’t chosen to forget about me too, please hear my prayer and remember my grandfather. He loves You so much.
Post Script, March 7, 2008: It would appear that my assumption was wrong. Thomas Aquinas theorized that God sees all moments of the past, present, and future as simultaneous to Him. Ergo, God didn't forget about my grandfather, rather, he granted him the gift of living as long as he wished. This morning, in an act of unmatched charity, my mother had the courage to look her father in the face and tell him, "Daddy, it's okay. You don't have to stay here anymore. I'll be alright." He told her understood and then, of his own volition, he went to sleep, never to awaken. Raymond's will be done.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
As we drove along in the impenetrable September night towards the unknown, my father told me:
"Son, if someone wants to harm us, and we have to open fire, always start with the one on the left and work your way to the right; that way, you are working towards your dominant hand, range, and comfort zone--which leads to better accuracy, if needed . I will take out the second one on the left. If I say 'fire,' drop to a knee and aim the shotgun at his stomach. Whether or not the shot stops him, move on to the next person. If I get hit, finish the others, then attend to me. Govern your emotions, ignore your fear; there's no time to fear in a firefight. Let's pray we don't have to even load our guns." (We said a prayer before leaving.)
No cars, no lights, no moon, just the intense smell of fallen pines, and the taste of metal (fear) in my mouth. I leaned my head against the hot glass as the Explorer hurtled through the splintered pine forests of eastern Mississippi, imagining how I would react if someone wanted to kill me. Could I kill someone? "Yes," I told myself, "without hesitation," as I tried to steel myself against an imagined enemy, against the never-before-considered proximate possibility of battle.
A shooting star burned out above us, as I stared up at the night sky.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Roaming thoughts, Roman ideas
Plastic squares contain them
Express, give them life
Searching, yearning, thinking
Refreshing too slowly, eyes blinking
Stars twinkling, thoughts--creeping
On the ceiling of the seeming-
Ly endless night
And here I sit, pounding away
Mind is racing, ideas escaping
So small a hand takes so much
From the things I want to say
Fate's fickle finger flickers on my screen
And I know of a certainty
That greatness was mine for an instant
I was to be the new Joyce
But, biochemistry and fate, mocked me
Abandoned me, nay, robbed me and banished
The thoughts to the dark nothingness of forgetting
My thoughts stood up, walked away, departed
On the Eve of Immortality
Non Omnis Moriar, I could have said
My angers rises
I see red, and I wish for death (someone's), but instead
Orpheus sings and gossamer fills my head.
There I lie, dreaming away
Mind is racing, ideas escaping
Deep sleep keeps far too much
Of the things I long to say
Waking, shaking, damned-near quaking
Anger fills the heart that's aching
Time has it out for me, there's no mistaking
Enemy actions when it's so plain to see.
One time: Coincidence
Twice: Circumstance or chance
The third time: enemy action, a deliberate
Attempt to rob my property.
Though I gazed upon a swollen river
And my thoughts conjured a masterpiece
I can never set foot in this same stream again
No one can, for other waters blah blah blah.
Yet, knowing this, knowing how hard it will be
I will never surrender to mine enemy
I will forevermore pursue the glorious quarry
Named Reknown, or die trying (as most do)
Here I brood, boiling away
Heart is beating, Time is cheating
Me of inspiration; it drains so much
In desperation I search for better things to say
And Adam, sinning in the beginning
Unknowingly aided his children.
Knowledge of all things became his
With one bite. A mere morsel and he became mortal
I ponder this fact as I grasp at hints
Of greatness that flash across my feeble human mind
I keep wasting time on this rhyme. But I haven't
Time to waste, I should make haste. Life is zooming by
Time continues ticking, it keeps slipping slipping
Slipping, into the future
And with every go around
That damned hand
Steals more as it moves in its eternal
And constant orbit around those roaming
Dedicated to the memory of Jorge Luis Borges (and Shakespeare)
Sunday, February 24, 2008
They woke up really early Christmas Day 1988 and found, to their surprise, different kinds of Christmas presents than they had imagined the night before. Instead of toys and games, they found beachwear, flippers, snorkels, masks, and other diving gear. Huh?
As their parents made them rush through examining all the gifts and opening the presents wrapped in unknown wrapping papers from relatives, they began sensing something odd in mom and dad's comments...they were not-too-subtly hinting at something. Finally, they spilled the beans, "Pack all this stuff up, we're going to the Bahamas!" Mac and Susanna simultaneously thought the same exact thought, "HOLY SHIT!"
They drove all day long to Ft. Lauderdale, FL in their gray 1987 Ford Taurus, stopping only for gasoline, Cokes, and peanut-butter crackers, and to pick up their friends in Jacksonville. They arrived after dark, and the only restaurant open was a Steak and Ale, which they happily slummed to. The next morning they got up and flew to Nassau, then to Great Exuma, and then on a little Piper Cub, whose pilot had especially bad body odor, to Long Island, Bahamas and the Stella Maris Resort. There they met up with their friends Burt and Lynn. Mac awoke the next morning to a strange sunlit white-walled bedroom, marking the only time in his life when he awoke and didn't know where he was nor could her remember how he got there. As fun as the trip would be while he was there, learning to SCUBA-dive amidst very attractive European women with different standards of bathing-suit decorum than Americans had, it was because of his actions on the last day that he would leave Stella Maris wishing he had never come, all because of the life of an insignificant stupid little crab. We'll let him explain.
My first day there, I woke up and my dad shipped me off to get my SCUBA-diving certification. I went on three dives a day, every day while we were there. It was awesome, one of the best experiences ever. We'd come home a couple of hours before dark every day, and I would climb down the coral cliffs to the rocks and the ocean. Every day, I found what I assumed was the same crab sitting in a little tidal pool. He would raise his claws up in defense when I poked at him, tenderly, with a stick. This happened all nine days we were there. I would go down and find him, and then mess with him a little. It was great sport in my mind.
On our last day there, I went down, a little sad that I was leaving paradise for Mr. O'Connells Physical Science classes and my freshman year of high school. I found the crab standing on a rock. For no reason that I can remember, I picked up a heavy flat rock and smashed him to bits. I turned around with a feeling in my gut that I had just done something horrible. While I never thought twice at killing an insect, I had just killed something for sport. It didn't give me a feeling of power; I felt horrible inside. As I climbed back up the hill, I wanted to vomit, but nothing happened. I was strangely quiet (my parents said so) most of the way back to Florida. On the drive home, I tried to assuage my guilt by listening to Van Halen's OU812 and Bon Jovi's New Jersey at a high volume on my brand new Aiwa portable tape deck, but all I could see was the ruin that had been the crab after I smashed it. It haunts me to this day, and that's why sometimes when I'm surrounded by family, wife, children, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, I feel like if anyone says anything to me, I'll never be able to stop crying.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
One of the most tragic things I’ve ever witnessed happened one Spring day in 1992 on the afternoon school bus ride home. No one will remember this event, save me and maybe Mark Jenkins, if he hasn’t blocked it out from his memory.
In 1989, Mark was 13 years old. An unfortunately awkward physical specimen during his early teenage years, he was short, very tan, about thirty pounds overweight, and a late arrival at puberty. When I last saw him, his voice still squeaked on occasion, and he had that obnoxious know-it-all attitude often present in geeky teenagers. He was not well-liked by anyone on our bus, which is partly my fault. Let me explain.
Mark and I had been friends since he moved into his house in about 1984. We lived on the shores of Lake Allatoona in Cherokee County, Georgia. My father had built our house on property my family bought at an Army Corps of Engineers auction in the 1950’s when the reservoir was being constructed. When we moved into the house permanently in 1982, there were only five houses on all of Galt’s Road; only two of those houses were occupied year round. I was a kid without other kids to play with, so when Mark moved into a house up the hill from me on Galt’s Ferry Landing Road, even though he was three years younger than me, my prayers had been answered.
But, our friendship wasn’t born out of similarities in personality or interests; it was one of circumstance and necessity. There was no one else to play with. If we didn’t do stuff together, I was just left to my imagination, which usually involved positioning my Star Wars men in endless battlefield scenarios on a clay embankment in our yard. The dirt clods and rocks provided a craggy landscape in which my Imperial Forces could wait to ambush the rebel scum seeking to defeat Emperor Palpatine. But, even Star Wars got boring, so Mark was great to have around.
However, Mark was a stubborn kid. He was opinionated, had to be in charge, and would frequently, and literally, take his ball and go home if we didn’t do what he wanted. We both realized the value in playing together, but often we would get sick of each other. As the years went by we moved from Star Wars to G.I. Joe toys. He and I would swim and fish in the lake from early morning until sundown. When I got a BB gun, he got one too, and we would exhaust our supplies of BBs shooting at beer cans we filled with water to get a bigger explosion when we got a hit. When we discovered some Civil War era trenches and foxholes in the woods on a ridge above the lake, we would re-enact the Battle of Allatoona Gap and pretend that we were resisting the Yankee invaders.
Mark’s parents were like most people’s parents in Cherokee County, Georgia in the 1980’s: working class, smokers, and strict disciplinarians. Mark was 10 in 1984, a full six years younger than his next oldest sibling, Matt. Matt drove a 1975 Camaro that he was chronically “fixing up,” which, in the local parlance meant that he had painted it with primer when he bought it, and it would remain primer colored until the engine blew or he crashed it. Matt dipped Skoal, had a bright red mullet, was pure muscle, wore a gold chain tight around his enormously Adam’s-appled throat, and was the epitome of redneck cool at the time. He had a box of condoms in his nightstand drawer, and when Mark’s parents would go out of town, he had girls over and would actually get to use the condoms. He was nothing like Mark, and Matt couldn’t stand his little brother being around, so he picked on him and embarrassed him in front of his girlfriends. His emotional abuse of his brother was pretty mean. One time he got one of his girlfriends (there were many), to go into Mark’s bedroom and act like she wanted to make out with Mark. At that age, the very entry of a girl into your bedroom would cause an erection, so when she sat down his bed and asked him to kiss her, he immediately became aroused. Knowing what was going on, Matt would then barge into the room and get mad at Mark and berate him for “trying to steal his woman.” One particularly cruel time, Matt and his buddy Joey Lafasoe (Luh-FAH-sow) came home after school with their girlfriends before Mr. & Mrs. Jenkins got home from work. They sat in the recliners, and had their girlfriends grind against their jocks and simulate sex in front of Mark. As Mark stared wild-eyed at this real-life porn film, Matt yelled at him “What the *&^% are you looking at?” and then jumped up, grabbed him, pulled his pants down, and spanked his bare butt in front of everyone while the girls sexually humiliated him for his small early-pubescent penis.
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Mark never had it easy. His parents never believed his side of the story. The punishments he received for minor offenses were draconian. He always reeked of cigarette smoke because his parents chain-smoked (and I do mean chain-smoked). When you walked down the road, you could smell the cigarette smoke coming from Mark’s house. I can still see his mom making us a pitcher of Grime-flavored Kool Aid (Grape + Lime) in a dark-brown Rubbermaid plastic pitcher with a cigarette bobbing up and down between her lips as she lectured us about “taking your damned shoes off (cough) when you come inside (cough, cough).”
He wasn’t very smart. He’d ask me questions that a kid his age should’ve known; he sucked at math, spelling, and reading. We’d try to read comic books, and he had to sound out words like “weapon.” He really loved Ozzie Osborne, Black Sabbath, Motley Crue, and Dokken. His parents didn’t have much money, so he got lots of hand-me-downs from Matt. Mark preferred black, and would often wear the same clothes to school on back-to-back days, since his parents were gone to work before the sun even came up. When we were at elementary school, it seemed like I was the only person who liked Mark.
In the Fall of 1988, I started high school, made the football team, and found some new friends. I got involved in rec-league baseball, and suddenly I was in with a new crowd, and no longer had the time to hang out and play with Mark. Our friendship slowly waned. In the Summers, I either went to work with my Dad or hung out with my friends at their houses; I spent the entire Summer of 1990 in Toronto, Canada. By the Fall of 1990, when Mark started attending junior high at E.T. Booth Middle School, and consequently riding my same school bus again, we hadn’t spoken to each other in over a year, which is an eternity at that age. As a junior, I sat in the back of the bus with the other upperclassmen. There were some major bullies on my bus, and they loved hazing the middle-schoolers who rode with us. While I didn’t actively participate in the physical side of the bullying, I did laugh at their antics, and sadly, my sin of omission was that I didn’t do anything to stop them, not that guys like Chuck Lancaster or Tony Dupree would listen to me much anyway. They were sexually-frustrated alpha dogs who turned to bullying as their stress-relief.
Mark didn’t grow into the physical specimen that his older brother had been. He was tiny compared to other kids, and was a loudmouth. This made him the prime target of the older kids’ bullying. His ride home every day would consist of name-calling, spitballs, ear-flicking, and on occasion a raised fist. Back then the bus drivers were kind of oblivious unless things really got out of hand. His life was hell on a daily basis. Eventually, I got my own car and started driving to school so I didn’t have to ride the bus anymore. I can only imagine that the taunts and torment continued.
So that day in 1992, the last time I ever saw him, Mark was sitting in the front seat of the bus. I rode the bus that week because the clutch had gone out on my car, and I forced to slum a ride home on the bus. Mark’s father had just died of lung cancer, his brother was long gone, and he and his mom were moving back to West Virginia where she was from. I had happened to bump into him in the Nintendo aisle at K-Mart about a week before, and we spoke briefly about his dad’s passing. My senior year, we had gotten a really decent man as our new bus driver. Mr. Stackhouse had laid down the law when he saw the kind of treatment that some kids were torturing others with. All that week, I watched as Mark would sit in the front seat, and get up quickly to exit the bus before it had even stopped moving. Per our conversation at K-Mart, I knew that this day, a Friday, was going to be his last day.
As the bus wound its way down the hills towards the lake, I began staring at Mark. My mind drifted back to all the good times we had had together. I wasn’t sitting all the way in the back, but rather on the good side of the wheel hump, and as we turned off Kellogg Creek Road onto Galt’s Ferry Landing Road, I could see a change come over Mark. As I had known him well when we were little, I could tell that he was steeling himself to do something. He got a little grin on his face that began to change into a broad smile (I could see his face because he always sat sideways in the seat). The kids on the bus were all talking and gabbing away, noisily unaware of what Mark had planned, or that it was his last day, or even that his father had just died. As the bus descended the last big hill before his house, Mark rose to his feet. As the bus came to a stop, and the engine noise died down, Mark turned around and faced the back of the bus. With a defiant look on his face, he yelled, “You all suck!” Only, with his squeaky voice, lack of friends, the din of noise coming from everyone’s uninterrupted conversations, and the utter disdain his fellow bus riders felt for him, no one but me heard him. I watched his face, and saw the gleam in his eyes wither and die and he realized that his big moment of payback to all those who had tortured him was a failure. He wilted, and before anyone could even take notice of his failure, he dropped down the steps, onto the road, and took off running for his house. As we pulled away I was dumbfounded that sadness of what I had just witnessed. To this day, I have never seen anything more pathetic and sad in my life. Mark Jenkins had a rough life; I hope the rest of it turned out much better.
 It may interest my reader to know that these trenches and foxholes were real things and not just inventions for the story. The were about 300 yards into the woods to the west of Galt’s Ferry Landing Road about 200 yards north of Etowah Street. In 1988, someone bought the lot where the trenches were, bulldozed it to make it flat, and plopped a double-wide mobile home on the property. We were almost inconsolable when we realized what they had done. The trailer wound up being repossessed and the lot was vacant again within a year. I believe someone has since built a home on the property.